In 2017, leading seating repair company MastaPlasta was awarded two Queen’s Awards for Enterprise for outstanding innovation and international trade. Half a million packs of MastaPlasta furniture ‘Band-Aids’ were sold from when the business began, achieving a 1600 per cent increase in turnover between 2012 and 2017. Stephan Pavlou and Donna Clarke, joint owners and entrepreneurs, explore the challenges they’ve overcome, providing tips for other entrepreneurs.
Starting your business is exciting and exhilarating, however it is not always smooth sailing. There can be numerous obstacles on the way towards success. For us at MastaPlasta, this path hasn’t always been straightforward. However, the key to our success so far has been that, instead of looking at challenges as dead-ends, we always embrace them, learn from them and turn them into opportunities.
Below are a few tips from our experience:
- There is never a perfect time: Start now
One of the things that makes starting a business so hard is that there is so much to do. While research is important, don’t make excuses, there is never a perfect time to start your business. For instance, we set up MastaPlasta in 2009 at the height of the financial crisis. While some could have seen this as a challenge, for us it was an opportunity. We had worked together as furniture designers for nearly a decade but the tough economic times led to us closing five of our six stores. The high cost both financially and environmentally of repairing furniture, especially sofas, had been an issue we had been looking at – and we spotted a gap in the market for high-quality mend solutions.
Do not to be afraid of economic challenges and look for the opportunities within. Our industry expertise gave us the foresight to know that people still wanted to keep hold of their furniture. The only issue for them was that there wasn’t a cheap, reliable way for them to repair their furniture. And so MastaPlasta was born. Of course, like any invention, it’s use as gone far beyond sofas – to vehicle interiors, hand bags, leather jackets and so much more.
- Ensure you have a strong online presence
In today’s connected world, there are countless opportunities to promote your brand online. Make sure you have a strong online presence, communicating your business’ USP.
For instance, our biggest advantage has also been our biggest challenge: introducing a brand-new concept to the world. This was magnified by the micro-size of our initial budget. The Internet enabled us to display our wares in a shop window to the world at low cost.
The great feedback from around the world and fantastic sales proved our best marketing, bringing with it a lot of attention. And as a result, we were able to sift through a lot of information to find a brilliant partner to work with in the US.
- Test your product
For small businesses looking to break into the market, testing your product is key! We had stong ideas for our brand from the start: world-class packaging and a great name to go with it.
We tested and tested our product repeatedly until we were certain it was of first-class quality.
This has got to be key to success – along with making sure you protect that idea by ensuring your Intellectual Property rights are in place. We hear comments like: “Genius!”; “Why did no one ever think of this before?”; “The only thing better than a MastaPlasta is the name – brilliant!”
- Find the right partners for your business
If your business is successful, you will need to scale it quickly, so finding the right team and partners to collaborate with is crucial.
Our innovation was developed between we two co-directors, and the first samples made by us We designed the product and developed it for mass production. However, the small firms that enthusiastically made room in their production lines to help with the first small run at little financial benefit to themselves were crucial to getting our business started.
Early on, we also had to scale the business quickly to meet growing demand, and one of the best decisions we made was to turn to trusted global transportation provider FedEx Express.
The huge uptake we had from our novel furniture ‘Band-Aids’ meant that we’d be foolish not to go down the exporting route. However, entering new markets and becoming clued up on the varying customs requirements for each can be an unwieldy task. FedEx Express was on hand to share its knowledge on new and emerging exporting markets and as a result we were never caught off guard by hefty import charges.
Our successful story has provided a platform allowing us to expand into new markets like Japan as well as increasing exports to Canada and India and we are now looking at advancing our products into the field of fashion.
If it weren’t for the challenges we initially faced in the early days, perhaps we wouldn’t be where we are today.
Whether you’re just starting out or looking to scale, hopefully the above tips will set you in good stead for success. Whatever you do, be passionate, honest, committed and have fun through every step of the journey, and success will follow.